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Last night … Socrates and Sex steamed up the Sarasota News & Books!

Here are my notes from last night’s talk at Sarasota News & Books … I also spoke extemporaneously a bit about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan … but the text below is the gist of what was discussed.

Thanks to everyone who came last night to hear me and author Theresa Rose speak — it was a fabulous audience with a spirited and interested Q&A session (the best part of the night, I thought!). Big thanks to Sarasota News & Books for hosting the event!


I thought a lot about what to say here tonight – what topics to cover, what funny stories to entertain you with. But I can’t do it. I’m not in the mood to entertain, and I’m hoping that at least a few of you who came here tonight came for something more than to be entertained.

Look, our country’s men and women are fighting not just one, but two wars though you’d never know it from our media and our daily conversations over the dinner table. Those men and women, many of them not more than just boys and girls, are coming home with lost limbs and lost minds from serving multiple tours for the benefit of well-off, mostly white young people whose parents wouldn’t dream of voting for a draft.

Our country is collapsing economically, and more importantly, at least in my view, we’re collapsing intellectually…

And this scares me more than any war, more than any bailout, more than any home invasion – because if we lose the capacity to think, express, and act on our thoughts, we lose the ability to form meaningful relationships, govern ourselves and others effectively, and behave decently as human beings.

Increasingly we’re all telling each other what we think to the point of throwing up all over each other – we text, we twitter, we update our facebook pages, we yak nonstop about our bodies, our health or what we had to eat for lunch.

There’s no dearth of people telling each other what they think, but most people can’t even begin to answer the question of why they think what they think.

I’m talking about simple stuff like being able to intellectually defend and support your ideas and actions and opinions and words.

And that’s where Socrates comes in – the use of questioning every answer until some logical conclusion is achieved or perceived.

We’ve nearly lost the ability to apply Socratic thinking and debate to our discussions and interactions – whether it’s during an argument with our spouses to in making a decision on whether or not to go to war.

And when we lose the ability to think within a Socratic framework, we lose our ability to understand on another. When we lose the ability to understand one another, we lose the most essential quality that makes us human — our ability to feel and act with compassion. And when we lose compassion … all hell breaks loose.

What kind of hell? Well everything from the hell of an unnecessary divorce to the hell of an unjustified war.

When we don’t think well, We do stupid things like invest our life savings with people like Madoff and Nadel and never question the suspiciously high returns – because of our own greed – no thinking person could have believed those returns would stick around forever. The rug had to come out from under at some point. But no one wanted to think about it as long as the dollar bills kept lining their own pockets.

We see the same thing with the housing market and the flipping controversy so well-reported recently in the Herald-Tribune. I wrote about the dangers of flipping back in early 2006 in my Reality Chick column in the Pelican Press:

The piece was called Priced Out of Paradise and it appears in my book, Sideways in Sarasota.

In 2004, when I returned to my hometown roots of Sarasota, real estate was the hot, hot, hot “topic du jour.”
Countless small, Florida-style homes had been leveled in a buy-and-bulldoze frenzy. And everywhere I went that first year back, the art of conversation was lost to loud talk of deals in the making, dollars for the taking, and which side of the Trail you lived on.

For several heady years, real estate was the new religion in this town. People who should have known better — particularly those in the real estate industry — were flipping condos, building monster-sized homes on minuscule lots, and jacking up housing costs to an obscene level in a town that already had big problems attracting and keeping qualified workers.

Yes, a lot of people made a lot of money, and most of it was done with little regard to how regular folks would survive the seemingly unending upward spiral of housing costs and the correlative costs of living in what had become, essentially, a rich man’s town.

That column is going on three years old, but it still holds true today – and it’s my contention that if we all had just thought a little bit more deeply, more profoundly, less selfishly, and more compassionately, we wouldn’t be in half the mess we find ourselves in today.

So what to do?

My answer to all these problems – and to the underlying problem of inadequate thinking – is – not surprisingly — to read – and not just read anything, but to read more of the right kinds of books. We can all read magazines and skim newspapers and devour the latest novel, but to truly inform our thinking, we must read books of biography, history, politics, social mores …we must seek books that inform our thinking in ways we can’t even anticipate.

And while I encourage you to pick up a copy of my book – Sideways in Sarasota – which I guarantee will make you think – I also encourage you to pick up one or more of the following books tonight here at the bookstore – if they don’t have it in stock, I’m sure they can order it for you.

How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen
Born on the 4th of July by Ron Kovac
Makes Me Wanna Holla by Nathan McCall
Night by Elie Wiesel
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

This last book, Walden, is the nearest and dearest to my heart because it speaks to an area of my intellect that I’m desperately working on — the aspect where the truest intelligence is coming not just from the brain but from the brain in cooperation with the heart.

And, contrary to what some people think – I do have a heart and this following column, posted on my blog,, I hope, speaks to my desire to someday balance out what my brain thinks with what my heart feels: Magical Music in the March Nights

I wrote that column months ago, and here I stand tonight – not singing, but speaking, and very grateful for the opportunity to have been heard. Thank you for coming.

Posted on July 24th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
8 Responses to Last night … Socrates and Sex steamed up the Sarasota News & Books!
  1. Sorry I couldn’t make it MC.Always keep us abreast of your future signing events etc..Continued best wishes:-)

  2. No worries, Steve! Thanks for the good thought!

  3. I want to stand up and applaud – I hope those at the reading did. I only wish I was there to hear it in person! Another well crafted and considered speech, I hope the Q & A was as engaging. The reign of willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism in the name of self-interest still has a firm grip on this country. It is by far the most serious threat to democracy that we now face. If only we had advocates for free thought like Reality Chick in every town in every state our biggest threat would be reigning in our out of control library budgets.

    Know yourself, think for yourself, challenge yourself – and try to avoid the hemlock.

  4. Wow. BT — can I borrow a few of your lines? Suh-weet writing. Thanks for visiting Reality Chick and thanks for posting a comment! The Q&A was, really, one of the best parts — the audience was asking great questions and making great comments of their own!

  5. BT, what an excellent reply to MC’s Blog! I fully support your statement 110% and always have. Perhaps a copy of this wonderful written reply be sent to the local papers in town?
    BT, ya up for it?

  6. Borrow a few lines MC? Of course, I’d be flattered! But really, I was borrowing from you.

    No problem Advocate, I’d be happy to – with MC’s permission of course. You have my permission to lift my response from this page.


  7. You’re brilliant, MC, & this country needs your voice. It was my loss not to have known about you in time to attend your event at Sarasota News & Books. Consider me a regular reader from now on.
    Keep writing!

  8. Jeanie — well, you’re too kind! I’m thrilled to know you enjoy my writing — you just made my Wednesday!! I invite you to comment anytime to me and/or to other readers’ comments. Keep in touch!


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